- Associated Press - Friday, April 7, 2017

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Curran Salter has fought a war to a draw. He’s satisfied with it.

“Last year we removed 609 feral pigs and this year we’ve already removed 440,” said Salter, U.S. Department of Agriculture feral swine biologist for Kansas. “I think that means our population is around 1,000 wild pigs in the state, about like we have been the last several years. That’s good.”

Though that sounds like a lot of problematic wild pork, Salter pointed out it could be much worse. He’s seen biological estimates that say Oklahoma now has more 1 million wild pigs.

“It’s moved right up behind Texas, as one of the states with the most (feral) pigs in the country,” said Salter. “That’s not a good distinction to have. Thankfully we’re nothing like that up here.”

The pigs Salter, and experts in at least 40 other states and several Canadian provinces, are battling are descendants of domestic swine gone wild. Spanish explorers introduced them to the New World in the 1500s as a food source. Others escaped pens on farms the following centuries. Over the past 30 years, populations have sprung up where feral swine have been brought in from other states, and released by those hoping to establish a population for hunting.

The Wichita Eagle (https://bit.ly/2n4a1k4 ) reports that USDA estimates put the national population at 6 million feral pigs. That’s up from an estimate of around 4 million 10 years ago. Texas’ current population is estimated at 2 1/2 million animals. National damage estimates start at around $1.5 billion as the animals can destroy large stands of crops, wildlife habitat, lawns and may pass disease along to livestock and humans.

Damage estimates in Kansas have been around $300,000 each of the past three years, said Salter, and mostly from wild pigs rooting in crop or hay fields.

Keeping Kansas from becoming overrun with feral swine has been a high-priority for the USDA’s Kansas wildlife program since 2006. Since then, Salter said he and other specialists have killed 6,600 feral pigs from a variety of locations.

The biologist said landowners and sportsmen first started reported seeing, and shooting feral pigs, in the Red Hills west of Medicine Lodge and the thick brushy country of Bourbon and Linn counties, near Fort Scott, in the mid-1990s. More than 1,000 wild pigs were killed in the Red Hills over a period of seven years. It’s one of 11 populations of wild swine in Kansas’ borders that have been eradicated, Salter said.

The Bourbon/Linn county population has been problematic to control for several reasons. One is because several landowners refuse to let Salter or other biologists access their lands in pursuit of feral pigs.

“That’s especially frustrating because we’ve had such good landowner cooperation in every other part of the state,” said Salter. “Most places, when we find pigs we can contact surrounding landowners and in no time we have everybody on board. That makes our job a lot easier.”

Their job got a lot easier when the state banned sport hunting for wild pigs in Kansas when their eradication program began. Regular hunting, said Salter, kills a few pigs but scatters many more in different directions. That helps the pigs expand their range. It also makes them tougher for biologists to kill by trapping or aerial gunning. (Landowners and those they legally designate as their agents can still shoot feral pigs in Kansas.)

Salter and the state’s two other feral swine biologists run traps any place they find fresh sign of feral hogs. It’s a job that’s gotten much easier within the past few years.

Today’s traps are much better, and effective, than what biologists used even 10 years ago. Back then biologists had to make many trips to an area with pigs, gradually constructing a large trap from wire panels. Sometimes it was process that took several weeks, as they waited for the pigs to become comfortable enough to enter such a trap, and spring a trip wire that dropped a door to capture them.

Recent trap designs use poles to hold the bottom of traps several feet above the ground, which doesn’t spook the pigs as they come to bait. A remote camera alerts the biologist when pigs are present. A quick push of a button can drop the trap from hundreds of miles away, if needed. The most ever captured at once from such a trap is 27 pigs. Salter once captured 42 from an old-style trap, but prefers the ease and quick setup of newer versions.

The dead pigs are buried. Fear of diseases being passed to people, meat spoilage, staff shortages, transportation costs and private property agreements keep the program from sharing the meat with the public.

Salter estimates 35 to 40 percent of pigs killed in Kansas annually are by trapping. Most of the rest are shot by specially-trained helicopter crews in late winter, when food is hard for pigs to find and they’re easier to see from the air. They’re never easy to see in the portions of Bourbon and Linn counties with thriving feral swine populations.

“There are places where there could be an orange elephant and you couldn’t see it from the air,” said Salter, who annually gets flying crews access to properties around private lands where wild pigs are harbored in Kansas. “That’s how thick some of the cedars are down in that country. We’ve had pilots come in that have flown for pigs all over the country and they say that’s as tough as they’ve ever seen it as per cover.”

Salter and other USDA biologists are also currently fighting a rising tide of feral swine in southern parts of Cowley, Chautauqua and Montgomery counties, as herds follow river and streams northward from Oklahoma. Roughly one third of the pigs killed by Kansas by USDA biologists are in those counties close to the Oklahoma border. Salter said crews will travel several miles into Oklahoma if it gives them a good chance to eradicate the pigs before they can move northward and do damage in Kansas.

“Our goal, as of now, is to control northern expansion over the state line,” said Salter, “and keep things from getting out of hand in Bourbon and Linn counties. We’re just holding the lines the best we can.”


Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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